This is my very first Riley Sager novel and I can’t believe it took me this long to read one of his books. I have seen a number of his books on my social media and I know that many of his books have book Book of the Month selections, but I have to be honest none of them really grabbed me. Until this one.
I love haunted house stories. I binged The Haunting of Hill House and Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix and have been looking for something to read that would be similar to those shows. I have of course read some haunted house novels but I wanted something with a little more substance to it and this one seemed to fit the bill.
It was a Book of the Month pick last year and I ordered it but put off reading it after my sister said she didn’t love it. She thought that Sager didn’t write believable female characters. That sounded off putting to me, but when the mood struck me to read a haunted house novel this was the first one that came up. And I am incredibly glad that I ignored my sister.
What was it like? Living in that house.
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction. (Summary from Goodreads)
Let me just say this book hooked me so hard……but not until about a third of the way through. The first third was a lot of back story and lots of ruminating on the relationship between Maggie and her father and how the book her wrote impacted their relationship. The book is told from the father’s perspective and Maggie’s perspective, I didn’t feel fully invested until the father drank a particularly disgusting cup of coffee (if you have read the book you will know exactly what I am talking about!). Up until that point there was a lot of things happening in the book that could have been explained with logic, but after that point, things started to get a lot more intense and the chapters picked up a lot more.
This book is just as much a horror story as it is a murder mystery/thriller. I absolutely loved the dynamic of how this one unfolded. The supernatural blended so wonderfully with this book that it became a believable fabric of the narrative. Sometimes the supernatural in a murder mystery becomes hokey and distracting but in this one, I thought it worked so well. The only other author I can think of who blends the genres of horror and mystery this well is Simone St James. This novel is chilling, creepy, and one you don’t want to read before going to bed. On more than one occasion I couldn’t sleep because I was so freaked out. It’s chilling and well written oozing with terror. I loved it.
There were so many red herrings and twists, I did not see the ending coming and I was thinking about how it all came together long after I finished and I actually would smile to myself a little bit because it was so brilliant and wonderfully chilling. I can now see why Sager has so many fans and I immediately need all of his book! If you are new to Sager like me, I would pick this one up because it has so much to recommend itself. Suspense, ghosts, chills, a complex murder, and it leaves you questioning everything you think you know about the characters and the ghosts. So much goodness in the pages of this one. Even if you don’t like horror, this is still a book you want to read. Yes there are supernatural elements but at its heart, this one is a murder mystery thriller make no mistake.
As for my sister’s criticism that Sager can’t write believable female characters—-I actually agree to some degree. There were times when I found Maggie and even Jess to be a little brash and silly in their characterization but overall I didn’t think it was off putting nor did I think it was enough to knock this one down from a 5 star read. I listened to this one and I don’t know that I loved the narrators dramatization all the time, but generally I thought they did a nice job with the story and bringing it to life. If you want a nail bitter with an ending you didn’t see coming, check this one out!
Book Info and Rating
Audible Audio, Unabridged
Published June 30th 2020 by Penguin Audio
Review copy provided by personal collection. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: horror, thriller, mystery